Jung (War) In The Land Of The Mujaheddin
It's too pat to say that the Italian TV documentary Jung (War) In The Land Of The Mujaheddin is more inherently watchable now than it would have been on Sept. 10. Recorded on digital video over three lengthy stretches in 1999 and 2000 in Afghanistan (and aired in two installments over the two-year period), Jung gets into the accumulated injury of the country's interminable, devastating civil war. The film is bloody and harrowing, marked by frontline battle action and gruesome scenes of emergency surgery. Even if the U.S. weren't engaged in conflict at the very sites where reporter-directors Fabrizio Lazzaretti and Alberto Vendemmiati shot the documentary, the firsthand accounts of the Afghan struggles, first against the Soviets and then against the Taliban, would still be vital viewing. Lazzaretti, Vendemmiati, and producer-editor Giuseppe Petitto conceived the project when they learned that their friend, retiring journalist Ettore Mo, wanted to return to the country he had covered for 20 years, to follow surgeon Gino Strada's efforts to build a hospital near a Northern Alliance base. The first half of Jung tracks Strada's thwarted efforts, while the second half shows the limits of success. Strada and British nurse Kate Rowlands do finally establish a hospital in the town of Anobah, only to find that, in spite of their belief that "saving human lives needs no justification," the work still gets politicized when the Taliban and its restrictions push north. The forced angles and strobe-like visual quality of Lazzaretti's digital-video cinematography creates effects similar to the fight footage in Saving Private Ryan and Three Kings, and Petitto's editing is so nimble and quick that at times Jung almost looks like a fiction feature. But the severed limbs and bullet holes are clearly real, as are the reactions of the Afghan citizens, frustrated that after two decades and a million casualties, the violence continues with different faces behind the rocket launchers. The film includes many surprising moments, from a man on the street who complains that the Taliban is secretly run by "Pakistanis and Americans," to a battle-scarred member of the Mujaheddin who fears giving blood. Even more unnerving than the mutilated bodies are the women enveloped in robes that cover them from head to toe, with only a woven lattice to see through. Their forced anonymity is a visual symbol of an observation Strada makes during one exhausted moment: It takes five minutes to fire a missile, but generations to repair the relationships damaged in the explosion.